Impact Study with Harvard GSE
"Our research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is delighted to have the opportunity to work with the network of UWC schools and colleges. We hope that the findings of our four-year study will provide valuable data for UWC and that those findings will also prove of use to other schools around the world who share the laudable vision of UWC."
Prof. Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at HGSE, and Principal Investigator of the project
The UWC mission speaks not of educational experience, but of impact. In order to measure whether or not we are fulfilling our mission, we must understand the impact our students and alumni are having on their communities. To date, only limited empirical research has been available to demonstrate how a UWC education develops skills and qualities in students so that they become forces for a more peaceful and sustainable future. Therefore, in 2017, the UWC movement partnered with researchers from The Good Project of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) to conduct a longitudinal study investigating the impact of a UWC education on the attitudes and behaviours of students and, by extension, their impact on the wider world.
The findings of this study will enable the UWC movement to improve its educational programme with a view to strengthening the UWC mission. In addition, researchers from HGSE believe that this study should be of interest to the wider world of education, allowing educators to understand which factors may contribute to developing particular dispositions and behaviours, and how a mission-driven educational culture affects student outcomes.
To date, researchers have developed data collection instruments and conducted surveys with thousands of students and alumni, including over 500 in-person interviews, alongside making visits to UWC schools and collaborating with 11 non-UWC ‘comparison schools’. This has resulted in an enormous amount of data, which is both broad, touching upon all aspects of the UWC students experience, and deep, providing highly nuanced personal perspectives. This data is now in the process of being analysed, with some exciting themes emerging.
For example, the theme of ‘impact’ as described by participants is being understood across several dimensions, including:
- The degree to which impact is described as an individual or collective activity
- The means of impact described e.g. through philanthropic donation, through policy change, etc.
- The mode of impact described e.g. through interpersonal interactions, through personally responsible actions, etc.
- The topic or sphere in which impact is described e.g. related to climate change, related to peace and justice, etc.
- The demonstrable or hypothesized beneficiaries of the described impact e.g. individuals, community members, etc.
Among other things, this analysis will reveal how aligned participants are to one another, as well as whether their theory of impact aligns with the UWC mission.
Another example is an analysis of the participant’s views of their school’s core values, including:
- Aspects of the UWC mission mentioned e.g. peace, sustainable future, etc.
- School- or movement-wide core values mentioned e.g. celebration of difference, compassion and service
- Beliefs regarding the extent to which the mission was present during the participant’s UWC experience, as well as personal attitude towards the mission and core values
- Criticisms of the mission and/or core values
- Events or activities during the participant’s UWC experience where the mission or core values proved particularly critical
Among other things, this will help to determine how strongly the mission and core values of UWC are felt and represented in the educational experience of students. Researchers will also be able to assess the extent to which the UWC mission and values inform students’ and alumni’s understandings of impact, and the ways in which they seek to have such impact in their own lives.
The study will be completed during the 2021/2022 school year, the 50th anniversary of UWCSEA in Singapore. We are excited to share the findings.
Now, perhaps more than ever, our world is in need of youth who are prepared with the dispositions to act for the benefit of the local and global good. This project will investigate whether UWC is achieving its model and mission to develop globally competent and prosocial students, and, if so, how they are achieving such a goal. In addition, we will examine how UWC alumni are potentially impacting society on a larger scale. As a result, the study may not only offer suggestions for continued growth for UWC educators but could also shed new light on how educators worldwide might draw on UWC's strategies to foster globally minded students with the qualities needed to address new and developing challenges.
Dr. Shelby Clark, Senior Research Manager of the study at Project Zero